Behind Every Lie – Christina McDonald

LIAM PARALLEL-PARKED on Langley’s main street like it was the easiest thing in the world. Three movements: stop, reverse, straighten. Done. I’d never mastered the skill. In the distance, a chilly morning wind whipped oА the waters of Saratoga Passage, kicking the waves into frothy tips. The snowcapped Cascade Mountains rose in the distance. Scarlet and gold leaves licked the coastline along Whidbey Island. There were no rain clouds yet today, the promise of a crisp fall day held out like a gift. “My hero,” I teased. “I just need to get you a little black hatand you can be my chauffeur.” Liam reached into the backseat and grabbed one of the black baseball hats his builders wore. He put it on and grinned. “Your wish is my command, my lady.” He brushed his lips against mine, pulling me tight against him so I smelled the expensive sandalwoodand-citrus cologne he wore. “I’m only going to work.

” I smiled against his lips. “I know, but I want more of you, Eva Elizabeth Hansen.” His blue eyes danced as he slid his hands lower down my back. I laughed and pulled the baseball hat oА, running a hand through his hair. It was still thick and sandy blond, nota strand of gray, even though he was more than ten years older than me. “Are you working in Seattle today?” Liam wasa successful property developer with oГces in Seattle and here on Whidbey Island. He spent most days in meetings, elbow-deep in proЙt and loss reports and zoning ordinances, or driving to and from property sites. “No, I’m here. I have a meeting in an hour, but I’ll be at our new site over in Greenbank after that. My builders got the structure up for the new strip mall so I need to take a look at it before the inspector comes by later this week.

” I raised my eyebrows. “That was fast. I thought you said you didn’t have the building permit yet?” Liam shrugged. “It’s just a technicality. I know they’ll approve it. Just sometimes the bureaucracy takes time to wade through.” He straightened his navy tie and glanced at his watch. “Don’t worry. I’ll be here to pick you up after work.” “I have that dinner with my mom and brother tonight, remember?” “I thought we were going to that Thai place you love over in Coupeville.

” Liam said it in that way he had: a statement, nota question. “No, that’s tomorrow.” I hesitated, unsure of myself. “Right?” Liam showed me the calendar on his phone. “It’s today.” “Oh God, I’m so sorry!” I clapped a hand over my mouth. “I totally messed up! Remember I told you my mom won the Seattle Medal of Courage? Andrew organized this dinner to celebrate.…” I bit my lip. “Should I cancel? Maybe I should cancel.” “No, you should go.

You wouldn’t want to disappoint them.” “I’m sorry!” “Why don’t I go with you?” His face wasexpectant, hopeful. I froze. “It’ll be boring,” I said carefully. “Besides, my family is weird.” He laughed. “Aren’tall families weird?” Liam knew better than most how weird families could be. He’d grown up so poor his dad kicked him out at sixteen, telling him he needed to fend for himself. I was sure that sort of rejection would have laid me Мat on my face, but it didn’t seem to bother Liam. He said it had just made him strive harder to succeed.

“I’ll introduce you soon. I promise.” I looked at the time on my phone. “I’ll see you at home later, okay?” I loved saying that. Home. After dating for a year and a half, I’d Йnally moved into Liam’s house. My princess-cut diamond ring winked in the morning light. Slowly but surely my life was coming back together. A large part of that was thanks to Liam. I leaned across the console and kissed him good-bye.

“Love you!” “Love you most!” I headed up Langley’s main street, a charming combination of antique shops, independent bookstores, eclectic boutiques, and art galleries. Town was quiet, the tourists gone now that fall was here. I hunched in my favorite green corduroy coat, a dreamy vintage style with a belted waist and buttoned front. I shoved my hands into its wide flap pockets, my boots clicking sharply against the pavement. My neck suddenly prickled, the feeling of someone’s eyes on me heavy and hot. Something moved in my peripheral vision. I swung around to look, but there was nobody there. The American Мag above the door of the tavern at the end of the road Мapped in the wind. Across the road, an elderly couple walked hand in hand along the sidewalk. I scanned the road, the familiar feeling crawling over my body.

I closed my eyes and breathed in. Nobody was there. Nobody wasever there. I scuttled down the quiet lane to the Crafted Artisan, the art gallery where I rented space to paint and sell the clay pottery I made. Mostly dishware, pots, and vases. My favorites were the special requests from customers who stopped by the gallery with a piece in mind. The bell over the door chimed as I entered. The gallery was small but brightly lit, with glossy white paint, black tiled Мoors, and varnished redwood accents. A wall of Мoor-to-ceiling metal shelves holding colorful ceramics lined one wall; another featured a collection of glass mosaic works. The owner, Melissa, was standing in the middle of the gallery.

She held a dark-green vase with a crackle glaze that looked like it had been broken. An intricate web of gold beads Йlled the cracks. Her blue-black curls were wild around her round face, dark eyes winged with black eyeliner and coated in mascara, a slash of red lipstick on her mouth. “What’s that?” I asked, slipping my coat offand stuffing it under the cash register desk. “I met a woman on the beach in San Diego this summer and we got to talking. Turns out she’s an artist. She makes the most beautiful pieces, so I offered to display her work.” I smiled. Melissa was one of those über-friendly types, like a hairdresser or one of those women in the makeup department at Macy’s, someone people told their secrets to without meaning to. She liked people, and they liked her.

She’d become a good friend since I’d moved to the island, even if I still couldn’t bring myself to tell her the whole truth about my past. “Look at the detail! She wrapped each broken piece in fabric, then used these beads to patchwork the pieces together. It’s based on kintsugi.” “What’s that?” “It’s a Japanese art. The artist Йxes broken pottery by Йlling the cracks with gold. Usually they use epoxy to glue the pieces together. It’s supposed to highlight the damage instead of hiding it.” I lifted the vase from her handsand examined it. “It’s beautiful.” “Oh, by the way.

” She reached behind the cash register and handed me a Мyer for an art exhibit in Seattle in the spring. “You got mail.” “Thanks.” I glanced at the flyer and dropped it in the garbage. Melissa shook her head, one hand on her hip. “Why do you do that? You could totally get your work shown there!” “Melissa, these are trained artists. They’ve been doing it their whole lives. I only bought my kiln and wheel a few yearsago. My little homemade pottery can’t compete.” “What is it going to take for you to just trust in yourselfa little?” She plucked the flyer from the trash and thrust itat me so I had no choice but to take it.

But I knew the truth: I couldn’t trust myselfatall. two eva THE FIRST RUMBLE OF THUNDER came as I turned in to the parking garage in downtown Seattle. Despite morning sunshine, clouds had rushed to Йll the afternoon with rain, and it looked like we were in for a storm. I took my ticket from the machine and slowly nosed the car into a tiny space, wincing when my bumper scraped against a metal pole. I sucked at driving. I’d already stalled the engine an embarrassing number of times driving off the ferry. This was why I always let Liam drive. I shook my umbrella open, hard drops of rain thumping against it like handfuls of gravel. I walked up the street’s steep incline, my thighs and shoulders still burning from my lunchtime yoga class with Melissa. Another low rumble of thunder.

I ducked my head and tilted the umbrella over my forehead, keeping my eyes Йxed on my phone. It was, I’d learned, the best way to disappear. Instagram told me one college friend had been promoted at work, another had just had her second kid. I had forty likes and six comments on my picture of my engagement ring. As I arrived at the restaurant, I slid my umbrella closed and reached for the door, noticing as I did an elderly homeless man sitting under the restaurant’s awning. Matted gray beard. Sad, rheumy eyes. Ancient, weathered face. He was drenched. No coat.

A crumpled umbrella lay on the soggy cardboard box under him, its frame bentand broken. My heart crunched with sadness. “Here, take this,” I said gently. I pressed my umbrella in his hand. Hiseyes lit up and he smiled, revealing a row of missing teeth. “Have a blessed day, miss!” The restaurant was crowded. Mom was already sitting at a table in the middle of the room, her beige khakis, shapeless V-neck sweater-vest, and no-nonsense brown shoes clashing with the linen-draped tables and elegant Renaissance-style murals. “You’re late,” Mom said, her crisp British accent disapproving. “Sorry, Mom.” I knew she hated it when I called her Mom instead of Mum, which was probably why I did it, some stupid, knee-jerk reaction left over from my teenage years.

“TraГc was pretty bad for a Sunday.” I expected her to scorch me with a critical comment as I gave her a quick side hug, but she stayed silent. She smelled of pine trees and cotton body lotion, a bizarre bouquet of nostalgia that launched me back to happy family camping trips and sulky adolescent silences. I wondered if all mother-daughter relationships were as complicated as ours. “Congratulations on the award!” I said. “You’re an actual, real-life hero!” “Don’t be daft.” She waved a hand in the air. I squeezed into a chair across from her, the only place I could comfortably eat as a lefty. My Йngers fluttered to my mouth and I nibbled a fingernail. Mom gave me the Look, her makeup-less eyes tiny behind thick, black-rimmed glasses.

“I’d rather hoped you’d grown out of that.” I dropped my handsand twisted my engagement ring instead. I wanted to tell her I was usually better, but she broke into a coughing Йt. Her face reddened as she clutched her chest. She pulled a Kleenex from her bag and blew her nose. “Are you okay?” “Oh, just this bloody cold. Can’t seem to shake it.” She touched a hand to her head and winced. Was her skin tinted yellow, or was it just the restaurant’s lighting? “I saw Jacob yesterday,” she said. “He’s moved back home to take care of his dad.

Apparently Bill has cancer.” Jacob Hardmann had lived across the road from us when I wasa teenager. We’d met at the school bus stop when we were twelve. He was my best friend, and once, brieМy, something more. But his work as a photographer took him out of the country a lot, and it had been years now since I’d seen him, or really even thought of him. “Really?” I couldn’t hide my surprise. “Bill was pretty violent. I didn’t think they gotalong.” “Well, since Barbara died there isn’t anyone else to care for him. Jacob’s a good boy.

He always does the right thing.” Not always, I thought. “So, tell me. How are wedding plans coming along?” she asked. “When’s the big day?” “Oh, I don’t know,” I said vaguely. “We haven’t really planned anything yet. We’re in no rush.” That wasn’t exactly true. Liam was already pushing to set a date, calling around for venues, organizing a meeting with the priest in Coupeville. Mom adjusted her glasses, her brown eyes suddenly sharp.

“Have you told Liam about what happened?” I looked at my hands. Shame slid down my spine, cold and sticky, like tapioca pudding. “I can’t,” I whispered. This was exactly why I didn’t want them to meet. Liam couldn’t know about my past. What if he didn’t believe me? Worse, what if he rejected me? It waseasier to pretend it had never happened. “He’ll think I’m broken or something.” When I looked at Mom, her face was uncharacteristically soft. “Darling, I’m not entirely certain one can ever become unbroken, but I do know we can be strong and brave and broken and whole all at the same time. It’s called being human.

” “Can we please not talk about it?” Mom’s forehead creased, her eyes puzzled. She wasa stern, stoic physics teacher. She dealt in hard facts and cold truths. She didn’t understand how I could pretend nothing had happened. But I’d learned that if you didn’t let yourself feel too much, you could tuck the trauma into a box, seal it up, and get on with your life. “I rather think telling the truth would be a better way to starta marriage,” she said. Aunt Lily swept in then, saving me from answering. She was wearing navy stilettosand a drapey linen pantsuit, her silver-platinum bob wrapped in a navy scarf that trailed over one shoulder. “Hello, my lovely!” She kissed me on both cheeks. “Look at you! So pretty.

And I love your hair that way!” She patted my cropped hair, recently streaked with toffee and bronze highlights. Aunt Lily wasn’t my real aunt, but she’d been Mom’s best friend since she’d moved into our neighborhood when I was twelve. They’d both grown up in England, Mom in the north, Lily in the south, and bonded over a love of pinochle and old musicals. Mom was rulesand discipline while Lily was laughter and fun. She gave us cake for breakfast, let us watch scary movies before bed, and even took me to get my belly button pierced when I was sixteen, much to Mom’s horror. “Where’s Andrew?” She kissed Mom on the cheek. “He’s been held up at court. He’ll be here shortly,” Mom replied. “Well, this is lovely! It’s been ages since we’ve done anything together.” “Too long,” Mom agreed.

She turned to me. “Andrew mentioned you’ve moved in with Liam?” I bit my lip. Mom had a fantastic poker face, but I still sensed her disapproval. It was there in the lift of her eyebrows, the purse of her lips, like when I dropped out of college to be a dog walker, or when I was Йred from my job as a barista because I could never wake up in time, or when I decided to be an artist rather than studying thermodynamics or quantum theory. “We’ve been together a year and a half and we’re getting married.…” I trailed oА, realizing I sounded defensive. “Well, I’m sure he’s lovely. We’ll meet him when you’re ready for us to.” Lily reached for a piece of bread from the basket the waitress had leftand slathered a chunk of butter on it. It was too cold, the bread tearing as she stabbed at it.

I tossed her a grateful smile. The waitressarrived, and Lily ordered a glass of champagne, Mom a pint of Post Alley Porter. “I, um …” I scanned the drinks menu, my heart kicking into gear. “Good Lord, it’s justa drink, Eva! Nota life-or-death decision.” Mom sounded irritated. I felt like a deer in the headlights. I knew I was being stupid, but even choosing a drink seemed impossible. “How abouta vodka cranberry?” Lily suggested kindly. “Yes!” I turned to the waitress. “Only no vodka.

Just cranberry.” I smiled at Lily, relieved she’d made the decision for me. Mom scowled at her. I almost rolled my eyes. They were best friends, but sometimes they were more like an old married couple, right down to the argumentsand nagging. “Tell us how you’ve been, Eva,” Mom said, putting her hand on mine. “We hear from you so rarely these days.” I threw her a surprised look. Mom wasn’t one for physical displays of aАection. She had helped me with my homework, made sure I behaved and was polite and didn’t skip school, but hand-holding? Not so much.

“I’m good. Busy. Lots of work coming up to Christmas, plus I’ve been packing and moving into Liam’s. You should see his house! It’s gorgeous! Here.…” I swiped through the pictures on my phone and held one out to them. “Here’sa picture.” “It’s stunning!” Lily exclaimed. Mom nodded her agreement. I smiled, warmed by their approval. The waitress returned with our drinks, and Lily raised hers to Mom.

I quickly followed suit. “I believe congratulationsare in order. To you, Kat, for saving a little girl’s life. We’re so—” An elderly lady pushed past my chair, her elbow jabbing into my back. I lurched forward, my glass slipping out of my hand. Ruby-red liquid splashed across the white linen, onto Mom’s lap. Mom and Lily both jumped up. An embarrassing red splotch was spreading across Mom’s pants. “I’m so sorry!” I grabbed a linen napkin and tried to wipe Mom’s pants clean. “Eva, stop! You’re making it worse!” she exclaimed.

I plopped, impotent, into my seat, cheeks burning. The waitress whisked the stained linen away and brought a glass of soda water, which Mom used to dab at her pants, then bustled about relaying the table. A few minutes later we were settled again, fresh drinks in front of us. “I’m sorry,” I said again. Mom reached for her beer, her eyes Йlling with something I couldn’t identify. Resignation? Worry? “Honestly, darling, it’s fine. It wasn’t your fault.” But it didn’t matter whose fault it was when you blamed yourself. Mom smiled at me, and a jumble of emotions Йlled my chest. Uncertainty.

Love. Hope. But just then, my brother rushed in, bursting the moment like a soap bubble. Andrew’s cheeks were bristly with a neatly trimmed beard, glasses glinting in the candlelight. He’d inherited our mother’s shitty eyesight; I’d gotten her pale English skin. Mom’s gaze peeled away from mine, brightening at the sight of him. Andrew murmured something to the waitress, and she returned a second later with a short glass ofamber-colored liquid. He shed his coatand sat next to me, lifting his glass in a toastand smiling. “To Mom. The Messiah.

” I looked down at my cranberry juice, wishing I’d gotten the vodka after all. three eva I COULDN’T MOVE. Consciousness was a Йckle thing, fading in and out. Everything in me hurt, a pain so deep it felt like I’d been cooked in a microwave. Time passed. Sounds returned. A low thunking. A rhythmic beeping. Squeaking wheels. A periodic buzzing, material swishing, soft murmuring voices.

I propelled myself through a viscous darkness, bursting through the oily Йlm of consciousness. My head hurt, hot, jabbing pain bolting around my temples and ricocheting through my body. A phosphorescent glow clung to the edges of my vision. The scent of burning hair lingered in my nostrils; under that, disinfectantand cold, recycled air. What happened? I tried to sweep through the cobwebs clouding my brain and Йgure out why the hell I hurt so much. The last thing I remembered was spilling cranberry juice all over my mom. Something scratched at the surface of my mind, a Йngernail against glass. MuЖed voices came from very far away. A low ringing echoed in my ears, punctuated by an exasperated female voice. Unconscious.

Murder. Lightning. A flash of memory bore down on me like an image emerging from a Polaroid. My mom crumpled on the Мoor. An overturned chair. Light. Then shadows. Then the image disappeared and I was running. And then nothing—the memory was gone. I struggled against the weight of my eyelids and moaned.

I was in a hospital. A doctor in a white lab coat with a stethoscope draped around her neck approached. She was tall, midforties. Ruler-straight body. She had blond hair pulled into a tight ponytail, almond-shaped blue eyes, and cheekbones rising sharply under freckled skin. I tried to speak, but my throat was too dry, my tongue glued to the roof of my mouth. She popped a straw in a plastic cup of water and held it to my lips. I slurped greedily. “Hello, Eva.” Her voice was soft and comforting.

“I’m Dr. Patricia Simm. Your Йancé’s just gone to geta coffee, but he’ll be back shortly.” Liam. I exhaled, weak with relief. “How are you feeling?” Her voice sounded muffled, as if she were speaking into a ball of cotton. “I hurt,” I croaked. I tried to sit up, but the room slithered around me. Pain seared along my skull. Dr.

Simm helped me sit, then pressed her stethoscope to my chest and listened. “Can you squeeze my fingers?” She placed two of her Йngers in my palms, and I squeezed, my Йngers thick and awkward. She then probed my arms, lifted and bent them at the elbows. “Do you feel this?” “Yes.” “Good. There’sa little weakness on your left side but nothing to be concerned about.” As she lowered my left arm, I caught sight of a strange pattern on my skin spreading up from a gauze bandage wrapped around my forearm. I pushed the hospital gown sleeve up higher. The visible skin on my arm was covered in pink, fernlike markings, feathery branches stippled with angry red blisters. “Wha … ?” “Those are called Lichtenberg Йgures.

I know they look psychedelic, but they’re harmless. They trace the path of the electricity that went through your body when you were struck by lightning.” Struck by lightning? She straightened, Мipping the stethoscope back around her neck and smiling wryly. “They’ll disappear in a few weeks. Right now they’re a testament that you survived something extraordinary.” I stared at her blankly. “Don’t worry if it’s all still a blur—that’s completely normal after getting struck by lightning. You’ve been unconscious since they brought you in early this morning. Your left eardrum burst, so you’re likely experiencing some temporary hearing problems—” Liam burst in, crossing the room in two long strides. “Eva! Thank God you’re all right!” His hair was standing on end, as if he’d just rolled out of bed.

His jaw was thick with morning growth, and his eyes were red-rimmed and shadowed. He wrapped his arms around me. “I got the first ferry I could when the police called.” I laid my head against his shoulder, feeling safe for the Йrst time since I’d woken. He was wearing one of the tight, Lycra T-shirts he wore for rowing, the slippery material cool against my throbbing ear. I touched my head and winced. A thick bandage covered a tender lump justabove my left temple. Dr. Simm noticed. “You got a pretty Йerce bump to the head, so I’ve scheduled a CAT scan.

The burns on your ears are from where your jewelry melted, and we had to cut your shirt oА. We have some antibiotics in your IV to make sure those blisters on your arm don’t get infected. We’ll keep you in for observation for a few days, and I want to run a few more tests now that you’re awake, but physically speaking, you’re a remarkably lucky woman.” She went on to list the physical aЖictions I might experience: Parkinson’s-like muscle twitches, severe headaches, scar tissue from the thermal burns, temporary or partial paralysis in my weak left hand. “What we really need to look out for,” she continued, “are psychological issues: paranoia, personality changes, mood swings, memory loss. Even trouble concentrating. All of these we’ll watch for and deal with if they arise. You’ll need to take it easy at Йrst, okay? Lots of rest to help your mind and body heal. And I’ll prescribe you some meds to help.” Dr.

Simm glanced over her shoulder. I followed her gaze. A man I didn’t recognize approached from the corridor and paused in the doorway. He was ofaverage heightand build with a thin mouth and shortcropped, dark hair that showcased tiny ears. His eyes were deep-set in a long, wolЙsh face, an intense, piercing blue against his pale skin. He radiated a sort of feral aggression that instantly set me on edge. “Hello, Miss Hansen. I’m Detective Kent Jackson. I’m part of a task force with the Seattle Police Department.” His accent was East Coast, the Мattened consonants and distended vowels of Boston.

He stepped into the room, his brown leather jacket creaking over a collared blue shirtand dark jeans. I squeezed my eyes shutand I knew. Somehow I knew what he was going to say. “I’m so sorry to tell you this. Your mother has unfortunately died. We believe she was murdered and we’re investigating itasa homicide.” When I opened my eyes, tears blurred the room like a watercolor. Liam’s face crumpled, raw with disbelief. He pulled me tight against his chest, and for a minute the only sound in the room was me sobbing. “Miss Hansen, can you tell me what you were doing late last night?” Detective Jackson asked.

I looked from Liam to Dr. Simm to the detective, trying to conjure my last concrete memory after dinner with my mom. I closed my eyes. Flashes of silvery images danced just beyond my grasp. Mom’s face. A knife. A sharp, white light. Slashes of blood. I pressed my Йngers to my forehead, trying to catch one. “I can’t remember,” I whispered.

.

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